How have students changed since you were here in the 70s? What are you seeing that concerns you or inspires you?
Students today are so unique and so talented. They’re so much smarter than we were when I came here. They have so many more experiences. It’s amazing to watch. You’ll see a student working on a laptop, texting a friend, watching television, and doing all those things, processing all that information, at the same time. Whereas we taught for years you can’t do that, you can only do one of those things and the other two are not going to have an impact on you. It’s unbelievable the ability of this generation to multi-task which we didn’t have. Their ability to concentrate is much greater; however, things have to happen in quick sequence, or they very quickly become bored and you lose them.
So education has to change. I think that’s one reason why online learning has so much potential we don’t even understand yet. Because a “Millennial” student is probably going to be able to do coursework online while they are doing something else, they will interact with the course in ways I wouldn’t understand. As educators we don’t really like that, but it is the world we live in.
Another thing that strikes me about our students is that the men and women of this generation are so much more spiritual than we were. According to demographic studies, this is the first generation that doesn’t expect to have a better life than their parents. All of us, especially baby boomers, thought we were going to do a little better than our parents. Well, this group lived 9/11, they’ve seen downturns in the economy, and their values have changed because of that. They value having jobs they feel good about, having friends they can relate to. Look at Facebook, it’s transforming our world, and it’s because for this generation relationships are much more important than career. Families are much more important than jobs. That simply wasn’t true for my generation. And because of our choices, many of us did a disservice to our families. This generation, for the most part, is not going to do that. They’re turned off by big money and corporations. They have lost their confidence in that as a way of life and what it holds. Their potential to change the world because of their values is phenomenal. I have nothing but respect for these kids and where they’re coming from.
I can’t imagine what York will look like when they become leaders 20 years down the road when they are our faculty and administrators. This place will flourish because of the character of this generation.
Is there a flip side to this?
While they are the most spiritual generation we’ve ever had, they’re woefully lacking in knowledge. They can put their New Testament on their iPod so they don’t memorize anything. It reminds me that since I started using a GPS when I travel, I don’t know where anything is any more. I don’t have to see landmarks. I don’t have to plot out a route. I just listen and the GPS guy tells me where to go. For that reason, I can’t go back and easily find a place that I have been to before. And what has happened because of all this technology is that our young people don’t have to memorize long things. They can get any piece of information they need off the internet, and they can do it anytime they want. It affects everything including their knowledge of scripture.
However, I think there’s a realization for me that has been very significant. In John 8:31-32, Jesus said to the Jews who believed in him, “If you hold to my teaching, then you’re my disciples and you’ll know the truth and the truth will set you free.”
When I was convinced to become a Christian, I was told you have to understand it, believe it, adhere to it, and then make a commitment. That’s not what Jesus says. He says you need to commit. Commit yourself to do what I (Jesus) tell you to do and then you’ll know the truth and the truth will set you free. In some ways I think this generation has a closer affinity to Jesus and what he taught than we did because we were so factually based that our decisions were very head strong, very logically induced. This generation says: “if I experience it first then I’ll find out about it. But if I don’t have a good experience, you’ve lost me.”
That’s pretty close to what Jesus says in John 13:34-35. “By this, men will know that you’re my disciples.” What Jesus has said is that you can look at people and tell by the way they act toward one another whether they’re my disciples. No matter what they teach, if they don’t love each other, they’re not my disciples. It doesn’t mean that teaching is wrong because that’s what John 8:31-32 says—hold to my teaching. But we amplified logic and knowledge, while relationship has been less important. Jesus says that relationships, how people live together, is the way you can tell if someone is a Christian. These kids are saying the same thing: “If I experience it, then I want to find out more about it because I only want to be part of something that’s real.” I can’t blame them for wanting that kind of fellowship, that kind of life.